Bandelier National Monument is located in north central New Mexico, just a short drive from Albuquerque. As we drove cross country from Idaho to Missouri via Mesa Verde National Park, we chose to take a detour to visit Bandelier. Unfortunately, Mesa Verde did not have any tours opened at the time of our visit, so we were not able to get up close to the cliff dwellings. Bandelier gave us the opportunity to do just that! The shuttle was not operating, due to Covid, so we made sure to arrive early to ensure that we could find parking.
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We chose to concentrate on two trails while we were at Bandelier. Both trails allowed us to get up close to the pueblos and ruins, and even to climb ladders to get a better experience.
As we began the Main Loop Trail, we immediately noticed little windows, or holes in the rocks. The Pueblo people who lived here from the years 1150 to 1550, built these homes from volcanic tuff, which is softer and easier to break into blocks. Stone tools were used to carve out rooms and make viga holes (windows). Walls were plastered and often smoked the ceilings, sometimes painting pictographs or carving petroglyphs into the walls. Corn, beans, and squash were all grown, as well as hunted deer, rabbit, and squirrels. They planted crops in fields along the mesa top.
Main Loop Trail 1.4 miles
We began our day on the Main Loop Trail, a 1.4 miles loop trail.
Shortly after beginning our walk, we began climbing stairs, which gave us an up close look at these dwellings. We were able to climb some short ladder to peak inside the carved rooms, and sometimes climb into the rooms. The first room we climbed into did, indeed, have a smoked ceiling, and traces of petroglyphs on the walls.
Further down along the trail was the Long House, which was several stories high, as noted by the viga holes. We were able to see more petroglyphs along these walls. It was fascinating to see all the ruins in the shape of different rooms.
Halfway through the Main Loop Trail, we detoured to the Alcove House Trail. The Alcove House was home to about 25 Pueblo people, located 140 feet above the floor of the Frijoles Canyon. In order to reach the top, you must climb 4 wooden ladders and several stone stairs.
This was definitely our favorite part of the Bandelier experience, as we climbed our way up to the top. Admittedly, the higher we climbed, the more nervous we got. As I gripped onto each rung, I wondered how these ancient people actually carried food and supplies up and down with them! The wooden rungs would surely get slippery or icy in rainy or snowy weather. Today they are firmly nailed and chained into place, but still a bit scary.
At the top, there is a reconstructed kiva, which is a large chamber, usually wholly or partly underground, that was used for religious ceremonies. Nothing of the original homes remain except niches that hint of their existence.
Although we only explored these two trails at Bandelier National Monument, the boys enjoyed it more than Mesa Verde National Park, because they were able to get up close and personal with the cliff dwellings. It was a much smaller park, and less crowded. We only spent half a day, but we all felt that it was worth the trip!